By ADAM BEAM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom cruised to an easy victory in Tuesday’s primary barely one year after surviving a recall attempt, advancing to the November general election where he will be an overwhelming favorite to defeat a little-known Republican state senator.
Early returns Tuesday showed Newsom receiving just over 60% of the votes. He’ll face second-place finisher Brian Dahle, a Republican state lawmaker and farmer from the sparsely populated northeast corner of the state. He had about 15% of the votes.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Alex Padilla had an equally easy time advancing to a November runoff. He was appointed to the seat by Newsom last year after Kamala Harris resigned to become vice president.
Padilla was on the ballot twice — once to complete the final few months of Harris’ term and another in a race for a full six-year term that begins in January. Early vote totals showed Padilla with about 58% in each race, far outpacing the second-place finisher, Republican attorney Mark Meuser,
Meuser’s work with the right-leaning Dhillon Law Group has included 22 lawsuits against Newsom claiming he overstepped his authority in imposing coronavirus restrictions.
Turnout in the nation’s most populous state was light despite significant frustration by voters over spiraling inflation, rising crime and a homelessness crisis in cities large and small. Despite those problems Democrats are expected to maintain their tight grip on state offices and in the Legislature.
Newsom, who did not campaign much and did not make a public appearance on Tuesday, said in a news release that Republicans “are attacking our fundamental rights as Americans” by “stripping a woman of the right to choose” and “standing idly by as gun violence claims too many lives.”
“California is the antidote to their cynicism — leading with compassion, common-sense and science,” he said.
Dahle has blamed Newsom for the state’s nation-leading gas prices, which hit an all-time high of $6.37 per gallon on Tuesday. He and other lawmakers, including some Democrats, have called on Newsom to temporarily suspend California’s gas tax, which at 51.1 cents per gallon is the second-highest in the nation. Newsom has flatly rejected the idea.
It’s an issue Dahle believes he can use to get the attention of Democratic voters, who vastly outnumber Republicans in California.
“People are waking up to the fact that he doesn’t care,” Dahle said of Newsom. “Why would you not reduce the gas tax? He doesn’t understand his policies are hurting people.”
Instead of suspending the gas tax, Newsom has proposed sending up to $800 to people who own cars, plus spending another $750 million to give people free rides on public transit for three months.
Just one year ago, it looked as if Newsom could be on his way out as more than 1.7 million voters signed a petition to recall him from office. Dozens lined up to challenge him in the 2021 recall election, eager to take down the Democratic governor of the nation’s most populous state ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Instead, Newsom defeated the recall in such a decisive way that none of the major contenders from last year filed to challenge him for reelection this year.
“This is almost the definition of a noncompetitive race,” said Jessica Levinson, a political commentator and election law professor at Loyola Marymount University.
Freed from the political pressure that typically accompanies governors during an election year, Newsom has sought to further establish California as the anchor of the nation’s left wing.
He has vowed to make California a sanctuary for women seeking abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. And he has pushed for a new law that would let private citizens enforce a ban on some assault weapons – similar to how Texas allows the public to sue people to enforce that state’s ban on most abortions.